Asda billionaire co-owners the Issa brothers have admitted providing inaccurate information to MPs about the intricate offshore ownership structure known as ‘Bellis’ that they established for Asda following their £6.8bn acquisition in 2021.
After facing questions by MPs on the Business and Trade Committee over his management of the supermarket, Mohsin Issa wrote a letter to the committee, which was published last week, where he clarified its corporate structure, setting out a list of 24 companies that were connected to the supermarket.
The Evening Standard revealed discrepancies within the letter, including inaccuracies regarding the offshore tax haven status of companies, inconsistencies in the stated purposes of various holding firms, and omissions concerning other businesses within the corporate structure.
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The letter to MPs suggests that three companies (Asda Group, Asda Stores and McLagan Investments) reside in Jersey, when they are in fact domiciled in the UK.
Mohsin wrote in his letter to MPs: “Without seeing it set out in front of me or with any prior indication that it was an area for discussion, I indicated on the day that this sounded correct,”
“Upon reading the transcript, however, I realise that while the entities themselves are correct, the structure as described was inverted.”
In a statement Asda said: “Unfortunately, there was an error in the table laying out the group of companies, incorrectly suggesting that Asda Group, Asda Stores and McLagan Investments were Jersey domiciled, when they have always been domiciled in the UK. All group companies are UK registered and pay tax in the UK in accordance with UK tax legislation.”
Asda did not explain why ownership of Wagestream shares had been moved around the Bellis corporate structure.
The letter additionally provides information about a company referred to as ‘Phantom Investments,’ which has the purpose of investing in the credit card company Jaja, where Bellis serves as the ultimate parent company.
However, it fails to mention that Jaja has a subsidiary, named Pana Finance, which, in the past year, has secured significant debt funding via an offshore bond market in Guernsey.
Last year, Bellis committed to investing tens of millions of pounds into Jaja, which had struck a deal to offer credit cards for Asda, enabling customers to receive £20 spending money at the supermarket upon signing up.
Asda said the purpose of the letter was to set out the relationship of the various companies that sit above Asda Limited and that Phantom Investment Company’s equity investment in Jaja Finance was disclosed.
The errors in the letter come on top of an admission by Mohsin Issa that he also mischaracterised the Bellis ownership structure when he appeared before MPs in Parliament back in July, when he seemed to confuse which was the parent of three holding companies that together own Asda.
Mohsin told MPs he agreed with the suggestion that that Bellis Finco, which is the company that owns Asda, was itself owned by Bellis Acquisition Company, Bellis Acquisition Company 2 and Bellis Acquisition 3.